Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 - The Year of the Long Emergency??

2017 was a very interesting year here at Chez Brown.  So many things happened - here, to us personally, but also in the world. 

If I were into fear-mongering, 2017 was one of the best years, ever, for trying to rally people into preparedness.  I mean, we have a Leader who seems hell-bent on getting us into a war, on destroying the environment, and on allowing Big Business more freedom to kill us with their poison food and questionably safe practices. 

It was a banner year for those with a prepping mindset.

And, yet, somehow, those voices were oddly silent. 

What I did see in 2017 were a lot of politically-motivated articles on preparedness websites, mostly about how we needed to guard ourselves against the liberals.  I'm not going to delve into a political discussion here, because that's not what I do, but it is interesting that each side is always pointing the finger, but never looking back to where those other three fingers are pointing.  What's that saying, "Every time you point a finger, there are three fingers pointing right back at you"?

Anyway.

There was a lot of blog fodder that I, and most places where I used to read, chose not to address.  I guess when the fiction starts to become too real, it's easier to just pretend it's not so real after all.  I'm not saying that I ostriched myself, because I didn't.  I also didn't employ a wait-and-see attitude.  In fact, we continued to do what we have always done:  we raised meat birds; we planted a garden; we harvested and preserved food; we gathered for our winter heat; we lived our lives, like we always do.

For most of the year, as I watched events unfold that were too close to those dystopian fiction novels I love, I didn't tap out a blog post, because ... well, frankly, I felt most of the time that I'd already said it.  Sometimes blogging about the end of the world, when it's a whimper rather than a bang, begins to feel too much like a being broken record. 

In 2017, unlike most years, here at Chez Brown, we were forced to really look at our financial health.  Deus Ex Machina was laid-off last summer.  We made it through without a hiccup, but when it happened, we sat down and did some really number crunching.  We were golden, at our current level of spending, for a couple of months.  We eased back on our spending, and it carried us through the entire summer without having to make any crazy changes, and then, Deus Ex Machina was hired by a national company that, as it turns out, has some pretty stellar benefits.  It's a good paycheck.

But what's odd is that, even as we are making more money than we've ever made, ever, we aren't living like we make more money than we've ever made, ever.  We live the same as we've always lived.  We don't vacation in Barbados.  We're not paying for expensive toys: there are no boats in dry dock, jet skis in one of those "toy trailers" or snowmobiles out in the yard.  We don't have a big, expensive house.  Our truck is ten years old and was bought used.  Our car is almost five years old. 

I've been a long-time fan of James Howard Kunstler.  Ever since I read, The Long Emergency, I've listened to what he says, because, frankly, too much of what he supposes could happen in his book IS happening.  It's happening now, but so slowly that we aren't paying attention - the proverbial frogs in simmering water.  By the time we figure it out, we'll be boiled ... unless ....

The above experience with our income is a really good example of that slow boil.  We make more money than we've ever made before, and yet, we live the same - by choice, of course, but also not, because we choose not to go into significant debt to have those toys, and make no mistake, it would require us going into debt to get those things. 

Which makes it even crazier, right? 

I follow a frugality blog called 100 Dollars a Month.  It's an awesome blog, and I have a guest post there.   When I first started reading Mavis' blog, I completely discounted most of her advice on buying groceries, because at the time, a lot of her advice centered on buying cheap food that was on sale or for which she had coupons.  We were eating, mostly, local foods, and there are rarely coupons for that sort of dietary staple.  It also doesn't go on sale.  I pay $6/gallon for raw milk.  When the milk is old, the farmer doesn't mark it down in an attempt to still sell it.  He feeds it to the pigs. 

Mavis is still blogging, and she still has a lot of great frugal advice, but she no longer feeds her family on $100 a month.  She, now, feeds her family on $250 month.  That number still seems incredibly low to me.  Even with all of the food we grow ourselves, we still spend a lot more at the grocery store per month than $250.  But if she says that's what she spends, I believe her.  I'm still trying to make it happen for my family. 

Don't judge.  It's a journey, alright ...!

The thing is that Mavis was feeding her family on $100 a month, and now, she's spending one and a half times what she used to spend - just to feed her family.

One and a half TIMES. 

Deus Ex Machina and I were having a discussion this morning.  I observed that the price per barrel for oil has been hovering around $40 for a long time, and yet, the price of gasoline and heating oil has not gone down.  Here in Maine, we're spending, on average, $2.50 per gallon for gasoline.  I realize that's cheap compared to other places, but with oil at $40/barrel, we should be paying less than $2/gallon.

He says it's inflation.  It's the ever-increasing minimum wage.  It's the cost of labor.

But per the government reports, inflation is at an all-time low.  Minimum wage was last increased in 2009, and, in fact, minimum wage peaked in 1968, when it was (adjusted for 2016 dollars) over $8/hour.  Today's minimum wage is not even what the average worker was being paid in 1968 - and we thought we were poor back then!  Ha! 

Employment is at an all-time high, but that statistic includes everyone who has a job including people who are only working part-time, because they have to have a job, and they can't find a full-time job (as such employment figures are misleading when using those figures to discuss the "recovering economy") or who are working in jobs with incomes that don't fit their education/experience level, i.e. underemployed. 

According to this article, we're experiencing some strange economic anomaly.   Apparently, low unemployment is supposed to cause an increase in inflation, but it hasn't.  And, yet, prices are increasing, but not because of inflation. 

Then, he said something really profound and is actually the crux of the issue:  Exxon Mobile is reporting record-high profits. 

Well, isn't that special?

So, back to our personal income.  We make more than we've ever made, and, yet, we live just like we always have.  In fact, we'll be doing a spending moratorium in January to get our finances in order ... and, again, we didn't get crazy with the Cheese Whiz and buy a 50" flat screen TV for Christmas, or buy all new furnishes for our "new bedroom", or get Hamilton tickets for next summer, or embark on any ridiculously costly or extravagant spending excursion.  We spent our, usual, modest amount on Christmas gifts.  We paid our bills.  We bought groceries. 

But there's more. 

We did finish a room remodel this summer.  Expensive, right?  Wrong!  The paint for the room was less than $20 - total.  The ceiling was free, except for the nails.  The flooring was free, except for the finishing tools and products (which, all total, cost less than $500, including renting a sander).  We reused our old furniture with the exception of the purchase of an armoire ... used, that cost $70, and it was purchased LAST winter.  We drove through a snowstorm to get it.   

Speaking of furniture, after we finished the room remodel, I started looking for some very specific furniture pieces to fit into our space.  I wanted wing-backed chairs, because I like the style and it's a nice chair for small, cramped spaces.  I wanted a storage ottoman for our living room to give us storage in that small, narrow room and for extra seating when we have more than four people in the room.  We opted for an armoire in our bedroom rather than building a closet.  All of those pieces, altogether - four chairs, a storage ottoman, and the armoire - cost us $210. 
 
So, what the hell?  We finished the room, and it was, mostly, free.  All of our "new-to-us" furniture was purchased used from FB Yardsale sites (including our "new" glasstop convection oven - a different post :)).   And, yet, we don't have a huge savings or some ridiculous disposable income for crazy luxuries.

We are in the midst of Kunstler's long emergency.  Everything is getting more expensive, and even if wages kept pace with the ever increasing cost of living, we'd still be exactly where we've always been. 

But wages won't keep pace, because they don't.  If inflation also increases, we're really going to be struggling.  Those folks who are already struggling will find themselves in greater dire straits - financially speaking.

I haven't seen a lot of prepper talk over the last year or so.  My prepper community has been strangely quiet about stocking up and such. 

What I have seen, however, are preppers talking about frugality.  I've done it, too.  We're understanding, perhaps, that we are, indeed, in the Long Emergency, and that stockpiling for TEOTWAWKI looks a heck of a lot different than we imagined a decade ago. 

Instead of getting ready for some big event, we're realizing that we need to be prepared, ever-ready (like a flashlight), for those every day things that happen. 

Like a job loss.

Or a hurricane (which in Puerto Rico in 2017, was/is, actually, their TEOTWAWKI).

Or a wildfire.

Or a flood. 

In fact, what we're discovering is that we don't need to be stockpiling for TEOTWAWKI, what we need to be doing is learning to live more with less.

My wishlist included a book called Muddy Branch: Memories of an Eastern Kentucky Coal Camp, written by Clyde Roy Pack.  The memoir details Pack's experiences as a child growing up in the much maligned coal camps of yesteryear.  He says, in the opening pages, "... we were poor - which wasn't really all that big a deal since we didn't know it until we were grown and LBJ came and declared war on our poverty."  He adds, "I never in my life went to bed hungry."

Maybe it's time for us to accept the fact that, more than ever, we need to learn to not depend wholly on a crumbling infrastructure and a disinterested government body to save us.  What we need, instead, is to learn skills like cooking, gardening, and chopping wood; to stockpile and learn to use tools that don't require electricity; to create a lifestyle that doesn't force us into dependence, but rather elevates us into self-sufficiency. 

What's more valuable than money in the bank?  Not needing money in the bank. 

5 comments:

  1. You make some really excellent points and I have wondered myself about gas prices? I don't follow a lot of specific Preppers websites or blogs but I know the political climate has been more polarized anything I have ever seen in my lifetime and I'm 61. We've just been kind of keeping on keeping on as well, with my husband's layoffs last year, continuing looking up how much more Foods we can grow and Preserve, adding more chicks to our flock, and keeping an eye on local job opportunities. I always thought things would go downhill quickly in a shocking way that everyone would notice but I am seeing more, As You Are, things slowly crumbling. I also see a lot of people who still really have their heads in the sand! They buy all their expensive toys but can't pay their bills are in ill health by choice, and owe tons of money on credit cards. I just sit back and shake my head and do what I can. What else can you do? Nancy

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  2. I just saw the World Made By Hand series by Kuntsler? Looks interesting...

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    1. I've read the entire series. The last book wasn't my favorite, but I very much enjoyed the first three.

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  3. I'd add 'a health crisis' to that list of what to prepare for. I never thought I'd lose the ability to work because of health issues. But that happened. And happened almost overnight - in 2011.
    Keep writing, even if you feel like you've said it before.
    SJ in Vancouver BC

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    1. Thanks, SJ. It must have been tough to go through that. I hope things are looking up for you.

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